Trump asked FBI head for ‘loyalty’ and a halt to Flynn probe: 10 takeaways from Comey’s prepared testimony

Former FBI Director James Comey’s opening statement, prepared for the hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday, was released to the public Wednesday afternoon. Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., told NBC News that the testimony was released a day early because that’s what he and Comey had decided. In the testimony, Comey confirms a number of awkward, potentially improper conversations with Trump, who asked him for a loyalty pledge, to end the investigation of Michael Flynn and to announce publicly that the president wasn’t under investigation. Below are 10 takeaways from the seven pages of testimony, which is embedded in its entirety at the bottom of this page.

(Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty)

Comey told Trump he wasn’t under investigation …

In the letter Trump sent Comey informing him he was fired, he thanked him for “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under FBI investigation.” Comey confirms that he assured Trump at least once that he personally was not the subject of any investigation.

In that context, prior to the January 6 meeting, I discussed with the FBI’s leadership team whether I should be prepared to assure President-Elect Trump that we were not investigating him personally. That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him. We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted. During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.

 

… but didn’t want to do so publicly in case things changed.

In a March 30 phone conversation Comey explained to Trump why there had been a hearing and how he had briefed congressional leadership on the specifics of the investigation. He did not explain to the president that he didn’t want to make a public statement saying he (Trump) was not under investigation, because he would have to publicly correct that statement if the situation changed–precisely the circumstance that had arisen when Comey felt obliged to inform Congressional leaders, just before the election, that he had reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, “We need to get that fact out.” (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.)

 

Trump asked Comey for loyalty pledge.

In a private dinner in the White House Green Room on January 27, Comey said that Trump repeatedly asked him for loyalty, leading to an “awkward silence”:

A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.

When Trump brought up “loyalty” again, Comey finessed the issue by promising “honesty,” and “honest loyalty,” a phrase he left deliberately ambiguous:

I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get that from me.” As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty – had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.

 

Comey confirmed reporting that Trump asked him to let Flynn go.

On May 16, the week after Comey’s firing, the New York Times, the Washington Post and other outlets reported that Trump had asked Comey to forego the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn go, as Flynn was “a good guy.” In his prepared remarks, Comey confirms that account, stating that on February 14, Trump brought up Flynn in the Oval Office in a private, one-on-one conversation. After waving off a group of people led by chief of staff Reince Priebus, Trump returned to the topic of the Flynn investigation:

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”

 

But Trump had other, unspecified concerns about Flynn.

Also from the February 14 Oval Office meeting:

The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.

 

Comey said he asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not leave him alone with Trump.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that several current and former law enforcement officials told them that Comey had asked Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump because he was concerned the private interactions between FBI director and president were inappropriate. In his remarks, Comey corroborated this reporting, stating that he made the request to Sessions after the February 14 meeting:

Shortly afterwards, I spoke with Attorney General Sessions in person to pass along the President’s concerns about leaks. I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened – him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind – was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply. For the reasons discussed above, I did not mention that the President broached the FBI’s potential investigation of General Flynn.

 

After meeting with Trump for the first time, Comey made it his policy to document their conversations.

The ousted FBI director is known to be a fastidious notetaker, but he hadn’t previously felt the need to keep contemporaneous records of every private conversation.

I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.

 

Comey spoke more often to Trump in four months than he did Obama in three-and-a-half years.

Comey, who took office in September 2013, drew into sharp relief the contrast between the one-on-one interactions he had with the two presidents he served.

I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) — once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months — three in person and six on the phone.

 

Trump specifically rebutted a leaked report rumoring that he was compromised by Russian hookers.

In early January, an unsubstantiated manifesto of material gathered by a former British intelligence official was published by BuzzFeed. Other outlets confirmed they were aware of the documents but had been unable to verify their contents. One of the items in the reports stated that Russia had compromising footage of Trump and Russian prostitutes and were using that to gain leverage over him. Per Comey, Trump cited that allegation in a March 30 phone call:

On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as “a cloud” that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to “lift the cloud.” I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him.

 

Comey did not speak to Trump between April 11 and his May 9 termination.

The pair’s final conversation was a phone call from Trump to Comey on the morning of April 11. In it, Trump asked what Comey was doing to “get out” the fact that the president wasn’t personally under investigation. Comey said that Trump should have the White House counsel contact leadership at the Justice Department to make the request. Trump took that advice, but also referenced a “thing” that the two had:

He said he would do that and added, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” I did not reply or ask him what he meant by “that thing.” I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.

 

Read Comey’s testimony in full below.

James B. Comey Statement by Yahoo News on Scribd

 

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